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Lecture | Lunch Research Seminar

Analyzing the kaso vote: Peripheralization, redistribution, and electoral stability in Japan’s depopulating municipalities

Thursday 25 May 2023
Matthias de Vrieshof
Matthias de Vrieshof 1
2311 BZ Leiden


All are welcome, however please register in advance at l-peg@hum.leidenuniv.nl to receive a copy of the paper and lunch.


Increasing socio-spatial inequalities have been linked to a rise of “anti-establishment” parties and politicians in postindustrial countries across the globe. In Japan, however, rural areas have continued to support the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), despite disproportionally high levels of aging, outmigration, and economic decline. In the mid-2000s, the LDP seemed to alienate its rural support base with a series of reforms targeting agriculture and central-local fiscal relations. The latter triggered a wave of municipal mergers which pushed aging rural areas to the peripheries of larger, more heterogeneous municipalities. Concerns over increasing regional inequalities contributed to the victory of the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) in 2009. Since 2012, however, the LDP has reestablished its electoral dominance – but is the LDP still the party of rural Japan? This paper addresses the missing link between socio-economic decline and rural electoral support for the LDP by analyzing a panel data set on municipal-level electoral results and socio-economic indicators across four general elections between 2012 and 2021. We focus on municipalities designated as “rapidly depopulating” (kaso chiiki), which are marked by above-average levels of aging and depopulation and below-average fiscal and economic strength. These kaso chiiki are subject to longstanding (fiscal and non-fiscal) support measures.

Our results show that kaso chiiki indeed display stronger LDP support and higher turnout ratios. Yet, this pattern is particularly pronounced in “fully depopulating” municipalities, most of which remained intact during the mid-2000s municipal merger wave. In contrast, electoral behavior in “partly depopulating” municipalities – i.e., municipalities which absorbed depopulating areas in the mid-2000s merger wave – does not differ markedly from “normal” municipalities. The results suggest that the LDP’s rural support base faces different dimensions of peripheralization since the mid-2000s merger wave. In “fully depopulating” municipalities, rapid aging and economic decline remain directly linked to geographically targeted redistribution, thus suggesting that the traditional alliance between rural voters and the LDP is intact. Rural areas in “partly depopulating” municipalities are marginalized socio-economically and politically. Here, the LDP does not dominate like in “fully depopulating” municipalities – yet sub-municipal peripheralization has also not caused significant electoral backlash.

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